Tackling Fashion's Water Pollution Problem

Stephanie Steele Sunday, 1 August 2021

In this lesson we take a look at the ways in which the textile and fashion industry is accountable for water pollution, and subsequently the effects of water scarcity.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic even hit, there were 2.2 billion people globally who lacked access to safe drinking water, and 4.2 billion people without safely managed sanitation. This means however that 3 billion people across the world do not have basic handwashing facilities in their home, and 2 in 5 healthcare facilities worldwide do not have soap or alcohol-based hand rub, all of which has had ramifications on the spread of the virus.

Outside of these general hygiene rights we have come to take for granted, water scarcity has been estimated to displace 700 million people by 2030, meaning no water for sanitation and for drinking to live a healthy life. And though this may appear as if the textile and fashion industry is not liable for these issues, it is both in the ethics of production facilities and in the sustainability of farming and fibre production that we see water being neglected as a finite resource. Yes, water is renewable due to the science of evaporation and rainfall, but as our water sources become more and more polluted, and sewage treatment infrastructure is not maintained, the water that falls on us and the land is full of harmful substances.

Thumbnail image: GAZIPUR, BANGLADESH - 2011/02/25: Every day, 9-year-old Jashim collects pieces of cloth from the liquid waste of the dyeing industries [Probal Rashid/LightRocket/Getty].


In this lesson you will learn:

  • How fibre and textile production contributes to water pollution
  • What water scarcity is, and why fashion should care
  • How fashion production affects biodiversity
  • What microplastics and laundry have to do with water pollution
  • Actions you can take to improve water use and cleanliness across your supply chain
  • Solutions that the fashion industry is implementing to support SDG #6

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Next Lesson

  • Reducing Your Fashion Production Energy Footprint

    with Stephanie Steele
    Summary

    In this 36 minute lesson we take a look at the ways you can reduce your energy impact and footprint across the more business areas of your chain - from the energy that your factories are using, to the architecture of your studio, what office essentials you should consider, and ways to invest ethically.

    As of 2017, the share of renewable energy in total energy consumption was just 17%, yet 789 million people lack electricity without the means or infrastructure to access it via either clean or fossil-fuel derived sources. Affordable and importantly reliable energy is critical for health facilities, but as yet, 1 in 4 hospitals in some developing countries are yet to be electrified. Alongside health, access to energy has been shown to improve the education and opportunities especially of girls and women, and in general, energy connects us to one another.

    So it is fortunate that the financial flows to developing countries for the implementation of renewable energy is increasing ($21.4 billion in 2017), but let's not forget that it is mostly the Global North disrupting the land in marginalised nations for extraction of fuel. Without the prevention of fossil fuel production in the first place, any move to renewable energy can be glossed over. There are solutions even a small business can implement in order to reduce the energy impact it has.

    The Sustainable Development Goal targets look to 1) ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services, 2) substantially increase the share of renewable energy in the mix, and 3) improve the energy efficiency rating globally. It is in this last target that the textile and fashion industries (and production in general) can be held accountable.

    By 2030, there is the target to enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology. There is also the target to expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for everyone in developing countries.

    Thumbnail image: Fashion Enter

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